Luis Robles (left) with Matt Lampson: “We know it’s going to be a tough one. At this point the amount of playoff experience I have, I figured if we do this thing, we might as well play against the best.” (Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports)
BRIDGEVIEW, ILL. — For Jesse Marsch and his Red Bulls, the shoe is on the other foot in the Major League Soccer playoffs.
Instead of starting an Eastern Conference series on the road, New York will kick off the two-leg semifinal series with Toronto FC in the friendly confines of Red Bull Arena either Monday or Tuesday.
In his first two years as head coach, the Red Bulls won the Supporters Shield (2015) or the conference crown (2016) and started the semifinals on the road.
“In the playoffs, in my years here, we’ve always been the higher seed, so we go on the road first,” Marsch said after the Red Bulls’ 4-0 rout of the Chicago Fire in the knockout round Wednesday night. “We will get to try it this way. You can make an argument that having the home game first sets the tone for the series. So it’s time to put our money where our mouth is.”
Toronto FC finished as the Supporters Shield winners. The Red Bulls played to a 1-1 home draw and lost in the Canadian city, 4-2.
Many observers say Toronto FC (20-5-9, 69 points) is the best team in the 22-year history of Major League Soccer. The team hosted and lost in the MLS Cup final to the Seattle Sounder last year.
“Toronto is a very good team and the reason why we haven’t beaten them is because they’re a very good team,” Marsch said. “They played very well against us at Red Bull Arena,” Marsch said. “We were lucky to get out of there with a draw. Up in Toronto I thought we played well, but we were a little bit unlucky to give up two late goals the way we did.
“We know them well. We respect them massively. I think [head coach Greg] Vanney has done a great job, and obviously DPs dictate everything they do. I think Michael Bradley is the MVP of the league this year. It will be an incredibly big challenge but one that I know we will be up for. One that we will be excited for and we’ll be ready to go.”
Toronto FC boasts a triple-edged sword up front with strikers Sebastian Giovinco (16 goals, six assists) — aka the Atomic Ant — and Jozy Altidore (15 goals, six assists), who kicked off his professional career in 2006 with the Red Bulls, and midfielder Victor Vazquez (eight goals, 16 assists), who runs the show.
“We know that offensively they’ll be tough,” goalkeeper Luis Robles said. “Giovinco and Jozy, they’re a handful. And then you look at the guys who feed them the ball and it’s not easy to be aware of those guys all the time. That’s going to be the trick. If we can maintain the same positional awareness, maintain aggressive defense which can help us press up the field so we can take chances.
“We know it’s going to be a tough one. At this point the amount of playoff experience I have, I figured if we do this thing, we might as well play against the best. Whoever is next, we play them, instead of posturing, we look who we play next.”